John the Baptist in prison
Isaiah 35: 1-6a, 10
James 5: 7-10
Matthew 11: 2-11
Psychology is not an exact science because human nature can be so unpredictable. We are living, breathing human beings motivated by our emotions and thoughts and not by a computer chip. Yet, have you ever learned something about a person that you were either inspired by or shocked by? “It just doesn’t sound like him.” “That is so out of character.” “He/she could never do such a thing.” So, trying to predict human behavior with precise accuracy is often unpredictable. But, we also say, “By their fruits (behavior) you will know them.”
In this Sunday’s Gospel from Matthew we hear John the Baptist, now imprisoned by King Herod, ask the question about Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Is John questioning his own judgment or just verifying his statement about Jesus to his own disciples? And so, John’s disciples go to find out for themselves.
Jesus answers their inquiry,“Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.” In other words, the words of Isaiah the prophet today are echoed in the ministry of Jesus.
Isaiah writes: “. . . Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak, say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, . . . Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing. . . .” (Is 35: 1-6).
To our Christian sensibilities, the comparison with Jesus’ ministry and these poetic words of Isaiah seems obvious. However, it may not have been so in the time of John and Jesus. Actions do speak louder than words so it was essential that Jesus verify the truth of John’s claim as Jesus being the, “Lamb of God,” by the miracles that he worked with authority.
Jesus reminds John’s disciples that, “. . . the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.” (Mt. 11). In other words, if you don’t believe who I am by my words, then believe because of the actions I do.
Here is where the rubber hits the road you might say. It is by the signs (miracles) that Jesus worked, his “fruits” of preaching, that we can now follow him with confidence. Not because he is a miracle worker or charismatic preacher but because he is our Savior, Son of God, Messiah, the hope of all humanity. Yet, the transition from following John and embracing Jesus was not a smooth process.
John the Baptist was an impressive man. He was no wallflower and he never watered down his message or the integrity of his life as the last and greatest prophet of the Old Testament. And Jesus alludes to this as well in the Gospel: “. . . Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; . . .”(Mt. 11: 11). But, as John reassured his disciples and us today, “. . . the one who is coming after me is mightier than I . . .” (Mt. 3: 11). So, these are not dueling prophets or Messiah’s each claiming his ground but John and Jesus – one prepares (Advent) and the other fulfills our hope (Christmas).
These last two weeks of Advent call us to open our eyes, to look for the signs that verify God’s presence in our lives. What are these signs, the behavior of God around you that give you confidence to believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior? Are my expectations of God and how he will “behave” consistent with what I read about Jesus in the scriptures? Or do I go out, expecting something different?
Our Eucharist is God in our midst as Bread of Life, food for our journey, Lamb of God, Hosanna. The Sacraments of our Church carry on the ministry of Jesus in healing, forgiveness, unity, giving life, the gift of the Holy Spirit. Is this good enough or do I look for another?